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TOPIC: Where multiplexes began??

Where multiplexes began?? 10 Mar 2004 14:40 #7645

  • jimor
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Were you wondering just where your cinema or multiplex of today comes from? Well here is an account of just where it may have come from, though there are others with other accounts. Enjoy this little history and biography from a Toronto newspaper. It might warrant being put in an archive somewhere, or framed on the lobby wall of your cinema?

*****************
"THE FATHER OF THE CINEPLEX"

Movie-loving entrepreneur came up with the concept of the multiscreen cinema,
and at age 73, opened the world's first true multiplex in Toronto

By MICHAEL POSNER
Monday, March 8, 2004

TORONTO -- Most people are probably unaware of it, but almost every time they
go to the movies, they are paying tribute to Nathan (Nat) Aaron Taylor. It
was Mr. Taylor, a film-industry pioneer who died in Toronto last week at age 98,
who invented the modern cineplex. He did it first in Ottawa in the late
1950s, experimenting with two cinemas in a single location. Later, he took the
concept to Burnaby, B.C., (three screens), then Mississauga, Ont., (four screens)
and Toronto, opening the five-screen UPTOWN near Yonge and Bloor.

Then, in April, 1979, in partnership with Garth Drabinsky, he opened an
18-theatre complex at the EATON CENTRE. The world's first true multiplex, it was
built for the then-staggering cost of $2.5-million. There were 1,600 seats in
all, and no theatre had more than 137 seats.

By then, Mr. Taylor was already 73 years old.

Of course, he not only invented the concept, he also came up with the name.
"I was driving home from the golf club one day with my wife and one of my
friends," he told one interviewer. "We were thinking about all kinds of names and I
came up with 'cineplex.' It means cinema complex."

Mr. Drabinsky, who was still a law student when they met, came to regard Mr.
Taylor as more than a mentor.

"He was a father to me, and a teacher to me, and a friend, and a business
partner," Mr. Drabinsky said last week. "He was everything. He used to smoke
stogies in his art-deco office. . . . When you went to see him, you knew you were
in the presence of someone special. He had an air of great success about him.
He was a remarkable human being."

At first, most of Mr. Taylor's fellow exhibitors ridiculed the cineplex
innovation. When he pitched the concept to a convention of American movie-house
owners in 1965, he later said, "I was a bust, a bomb. Nobody knew what I was
talking about. They said it wasn't conceivable. The industry was suffering pretty
badly from television. My argument was: You don't need so many seats."

Only one American theatre-owner took him seriously and he, like Mr. Taylor,
became a multiplexing millionaire.

The idea, of course, eventually caught on. In fact, the modern cineplex, it
turned out, was an almost perfect marriage of culture, commerce and technology.
In cultural terms, it testified to film's increasing dominance of the arts
and the appetite for visual spectacle. In commercial terms, it enabled
exhibitors to pack far greater numbers of patrons into a single building, maximizing
opportunities for box-office home runs while enabling them to subsidize
low-margin art or specialty films with crowd-pleasers and, perhaps most important,
significantly increasing sales of popcorn, soda pop and candy -- their biggest
profit-margin items. It also accommodated major advances in sound and projection
technology, enabling the movies to respond to the continuing challenge posed
by television.

All of this Mr. Taylor anticipated, and the formula he invented has since
become the standard for the urban and suburban moviegoing experience. Of course,
its evolution was not entirely along the lines he first envisaged. As Mr.
Taylor conceived it, a complex with eight, 12 or 20 screens would consist largely
of smaller, independent features, foreign and domestic. In fact, in most
instances, screens in cineplexes are today devoted to the highest-grossing
Hollywood movies; everything else is more or less an afterthought.

According to his stepdaughter, Toronto journalist and editor Bronwyn Drainie,
Mr. Taylor was cut from the classic mould of the movie-industry entrepreneur
-- boisterous, even loud, extremely gruff on the outside, and often found with
a cigar in his mouth.

But beneath this hardened exterior, she said, "he had an absolute heart of
gold. He was very generous, financially and in spirit. And he was fun.
Everything about Nat was fun."

In a eulogy delivered at Mr. Taylor's funeral last week, Ms. Drainie cited
one of Mr. Taylor's regular sayings: " 'Money's like manure. It's no good unless
you spread it around.' [to borrow from 'Dolly Levi' of "Hello Dolly!" and the "Matchmaker."]

"And he truly believed that. But he was different from most rich people; he
never used his power to get his own way. He let us stumble along and make our
mistakes and never gave unwanted advice. All he cared about was that we should
be actors in our own lives. His was a true entrepreneurial spirit."

And although he ultimately earned a lot of money as a film exhibitor, Ms.
Drainie said money was never what motivated him. "It was making the deals and
then talking about them."

Ms. Drainie became his stepdaughter in 1968, when Mr. Taylor, a recent
widower (after the death of his wife, Yvonne), married Claire Drainie, a recent
widow. In addition to his son, Michael, from his first marriage, he suddenly
acquired a new family of six other children, ranging in age from 4 to 20.
"We all moved into a big house in Rosedale," Ms. Drainie recalled. "And in
retrospect, it's amazing how well he adjusted. He was really a family man."

On Friday and Saturday nights, the entire family would often be carted off to
one of Mr. Taylor's private screening rooms, where they watched films that
had not yet been released commercially. Typically, Mr. Taylor himself watched
300 films a year -- for 40 years.

The son of a tailor -- which may explain the development of the family name,
undoubtedly anglicized from its Russian/Polish roots -- Nat Taylor was born in
1906 in the downtown Jewish district of Toronto. He seems to have been in the
film business almost from the start. In 1918, at age 12, he traveled the
streetcars between movie houses, selling picture postcards and posters of screen
stars Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford and others. He made $20 a month that year
-- $200 a month the next.

By 16, borrowing $30,000 from family and friends, he converted a store in
London, Ont., into his first movie theatre. It made money immediately. He
returned to school to earn a law degree, but soon returned to the movie business,
building a chain of about 60 theatres, a film-distribution company and the
140-acre International Studios in Kleinburg, Ont., north of Toronto, where dozens of
movies and TV series were once filmed. He also dabbled in production,
releasing a psychological horror film, "The Mask" (1961) -- the first Canadian film to
be distributed in the United States by a major studio -- and, later, "Explosion"
(1969) and "The Reincarnate", a 1971 feature about a personality transposed
into someone else's body.

For his first wife, who had an interest in art and foreign films, Mr. Taylor
set up Toronto's first art-house cinema, the INTERNATIONAL, in the mid-1940s.
Later, in the 1950s and 60s, he owned a string of drive-ins.

It was in 1957, according to Mr. Drabinsky's autobiography, "Closer to the Sun,"
that Mr. Taylor latched, by accident, onto the multiplex concept. He had
built Ottawa's ELGIN THEATRE and, unable to find a tenant for the adjacent plot
of land, had added a 400-seat art-film theatre under the same roof.

That year, while making a modest amount of money from United Artists' "Witness
for the Prosecution," Columbia Pictures offered "The Bridge on the River Kwai."
Rather than lose it, Mr. Taylor took the eventual Oscar-winner for the
800-seat ELGIN and moved "Witness for the Prosecution" to the "LITTLE ELGIN." It was
the world's first dual movie theatre.

With Mr. Drabinsky, he rode the bright comet of expansion, buying up the
Odeon chain to form Cineplex-Odeon. The descent was equally meteoric. "Garth was
his protege," Ms. Drainie explained, "and he was proud of their relationship
and he backed him as long as he could." In a power struggle, Mr. Drabinsky was forced out of the company in the late 1980s by other equity investors.

Mr. Taylor was a man of regular habits. He always took his lunch to work in a
brown paper bag. He always spent two months a year in Florida. And he
typically took an afternoon nap in his office.

At 74, at the dawn of the Cineplex era, he told a reporter why he would not
retire. "If I were an artist, I wouldn't hang up my brush at the age of 65. You
don't expect a writer to stop writing at 65. Well, I'm an entrepreneur, and I
love making deals and taking gambles -- it's more exciting than playing
bridge every night."

Nor was he much interested in looking back on his past. "Stories," he said.
"Sure I know lots of stories. But who wants to read about that? The past is
past. The problem of talking to an old man is that he always wants to tell you
what was, but of course, you see, I talk like a young man because I tell you
what is going to be."

Nat Taylor died on March 1 of natural causes. He leaves Claire, his wife of
35 years, six stepchildren and several grandchildren.
********
Jim R. (new E-mail: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it ) member: www.HistoricTheatres.org
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